Written by Philippa Smith
How Halad to Health has turned potential COVID-19 related losses into an opportunity for innovation
The global pandemic has brought with it many unprecedented challenges for businesses, with the financial impacts of COVID-19 having shown no mercy on the not-for-profit (NFP) sector. With border closures and social distancing practices put in place nationwide, there has been emphasis made on the need for a dynamic business model suited to adaptation.
Eliza Li, the co-founder and managing director of Halad to Health and a speaker at the 180DC Social Impact Seminar held on June 1st, has done just that. Eliza co-founded Halad to Health, an NFP which provides free health education for partner communities in rural Philippines, as a final year Monash biomedicine and commence student in 2019. Ever since, Eliza has seen the vision of closing the gap in global health inequalities through their unique free health education model for a, now exponentially, growing number of schools in Bukidnon, Philippines. Eliza and her team have shown that adaptive, contemporary leadership is the key to coming out of the pandemic on the right side.
Early Days of The Halad to Health Story
Halad to Health is an international development organisation, that brewed from Eliza’s summer aid projects in the Philippines, as a first-year biomedicine student, where she noticed an opportunity to connect under-resourced communities in need of health education with university students willing to help. It was from here that Halad to Health was born, an organisation that focuses on preventative health care in rural Philippines through increasing access to basic health education. Halad now supports several health education missions in the form of 2-week volunteering trips involving university students sharing knowledge with elementary and high school students in rural communities.
Eliza attributes the organisation’s successes, including teaching over 4000 local students in their first year of operating and remarkable growth, to “persistence,” as the founding members really “came together, stuck at one thing, and made it incredible,” a recipe for clear success. With a well-structured model in place and an overwhelming number of schools on board, it was undeniable the exponential success in-country would continue well into 2020… until COVID-19 put a halt on all international operations.
Adaption to COVID-19 With A Global Team
Halad was set up as a global organisation from day one. With teams spread across Australia and Philippines, everyone was equally hit hard by the pandemic, lockdowns and isolation.
In general, a major issue faced by NFPs with international operations has been the recent border closures, though, for Halad, the pause on missions allowed the organisation to rethink and restructure their vision. Eliza commented that Halad had a “tunnel vision on what social impact meant,” in that their role now was to sustain the only way to make a true impact through “groundwork with the local community.” Before the COVID-19 restrictions, Halad to Health had reached a larger proportion of the Bukidnon community but lacked the funding to meet the demand of providing more free health education classes in-country. Simply put, demand and traction for their good work was overwhelming by February 2020. The pause on operations as a result of COVID-19 gave Eliza and her team the perfect opportunity to “shift their focus away from ground operations work in the Philippines to working out their back-end funding,” to assure the organisation remains sustainable and their social mission can be met with efficiency.
The second big problem faced by global NFPs is how to continue ground-word in a COVID-safe manner. Currently, Halad’s partner community, Bukidnon, still faces the threat of outbreaks and remains in genuine quarantine, meaning that schools are not able to resume class in-person, hence Halad’s impact grounds are limited.
Their Global COVID-19 Campaign
It didn’t take long for Halad to Health to realise providing free health education classes online was not an option. If they wanted their new brand in its growing infancy to survive the pandemic, they had to make local schools and health officials know that they still existed during this time. Within a few short months, the Halad team re-created a virtual version of their missions, which they called ‘Open Classrooms’, a Facebook campaign which open-sourced lessons on Personal Hygiene, Emotional Health and Adolescent Reproductive Health during this time. The Department of Education (Valencia City Division) were quick to endorse the online program open to all high school students as one of their official OK SA DepEd programs for local high schools to take onboard. The campaign has not only attracted local government departments and national sponsorships from brands, like Robinsons but also seen over 1000 local Filipino students participating since they launched this August.
With the effects of COVID-19 having an unknown duration, Halad has now transformed operations with a focus on the back end fundraising not only for future missions but to additionally support partner hospitals in Bukidnon, Philippines, who “are going through the toughest of times right now,” and “have been there for [Halad volunteers] every time [they] go across.” This included raising funds to support frontline healthcare workers at the beginning of the pandemic during International Nurses Day and providing 200+ free PPE to protect healthcare workers in partner hospitals as, “the smallest gestures can make a world of difference in this time of real need.” How they did this? “We found a niche and showed that we truly cared about them during this time,” Halad concluded that the real people who would still care about their cause during this time were pre-medical students. Halad then focused on proving affordable GAMSAT medicine entrance related programs and university club-based partnerships to continue delivering true educational value to students, with a social conscience, who would likely otherwise be volunteering with them at this time, if not for the pandemic.
Halad now runs the most affordable GAMSAT programs
By February 2020, Halad discovered a real gap in the market for affordable GAMSAT tutoring programs with a social purpose, their alumni team of med students came together to build programs aimed at assisting students with their medicine entrance. Following previous “small wins” in offering GAMSAT related services, Halad swiftly moved these services online, restructuring the programs' previous infrastructure with unrivalled ease when compared to their competition [according to Pravind, one of Halad’s GAMSAT Students]. Without knowing whether the new online format would take off as well as in-person classes would, it was undoubtedly a huge success, with over 300 students from across the world taking part in the first online program which would have initially been limited to 80 if held in person. And in the last 6 months, the word that Halad now has “the most affordable GAMSAT programs”, not only in Australia but also across the world has spread resulting in 10x top-line revenue in a few short months… all of which means more funds for a social cause. Through their gutsy transfer to online programs, Halad has not only increased revenue but has additionally tapped into new markets that they would have previously had limited access to, increasing their outreach to potential volunteers for future operations.
Meaningful University Club and Society Partnerships
After working with a handful of University clubs and societies in marketing their GAMSAT programs, Halad found an opportunity to assist clubs and societies with events. In the short span of the last 6 months, Halad has established 20+ university partnerships with university clubs nationwide, who are aligned with the Halad values, to deliver “value-adding, online events for health students in what is an almost dead event space,” including the upcoming Neuroscience Behind Depression and Anatomy Behind Teenage Pregnancies events. Using both their network of health officials across Bukidnon, Philippines and Melbourne, as well as niche knowledge of teaching these pressing topics to Filipino youth, Halad is hosting online events to keep the spirit of continual learning and giving back alive. These partnerships will inevitably provide future value, allowing Halad to expand their volunteering opportunities and brand awareness to health students nationwide, through establishing unique relationships with university students, which are far more meaningful and value-adding for everyone.
“You can't have these flailing arms of the organisation that you don't know how to align. For us now we've taken all our flailing arms and connected them, so everything is aligned.” – Eliza Li
Eliza believes that Halad has a “very clear exit path,” into the post-COVID world as a result of the organisation taking the time to look within and ensure their “failing arms [are] connected and everything is aligned.”
When questioned about tips for other NFPs during this pressing time, Eliza suggested that it is important to ensure “the people behind the organisation are supported.” This should be the priority over any business strategy or tangible operational duties as these things “can always come after, as long as the people of your organisation feel and know they are supported.”
The Halad to Health story shows it is important to continue to maintain an agile and resilient organisational culture as the future is uncertain, and it is clear that Eliza and her team have created a well-oiled machine, set up to face the unknown duration of the global pandemic.